Healing My Religion (Working Title)
For my daughter, Evelyn. My hope is that I might leave you in this world with a sense of how the Sacred is alive within you.
And for my grandmother, also Evelyn, who loved me like Christ loved her.
This is not a story about a prodigal return to my Christian origins after years of living in sin. By many people’s standards, I am probably still ‘living in sin‘. Instead, this is my literary attempt to wrestle with my own religious tradition, acknowledging both the pain and the joy it has offered me.
Chapter 1 (In The Beginning)
I was born and raised in a suburb of Kansas City, KS – just outside of the “Bible Belt”. My parents took us to church every Sunday, and taught us to pray before dinner and before bedtime every day. I don’t think I knew that there were people who called themselves Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or Sikhs until well into my early adolescence, and I did not get exposed to a single piece of thoughtful dialogue about any of those spiritual perspectives until my junior year of college.
This is the backdrop for my earliest religious sensibilities.
My parents were – and still are – very decent, very hard working, and very generous people. They have always modeled to me a general benevolence towards humanity, which they would likely ascribe to their religious sensibilities. For me, however, being raised by socially responsible parents did not completely inoculate me against some of the uglier aspects of church culture.
Like most busy parents of small children, my mom and dad could not supervise every single Sunday School lecture I received, nor mediate every interaction with other kids or their parents in our wider Christian community. And at some point along the way, one of my Sunday School teachers (note: these were often volunteer parents, and not necessarily seminary graduates) explained to me that the only way anyone could expect to get into heaven was if they believed Jesus Christ was God’s only Son.
So, I’m 7 years old, and I repeat this revelatory new information at school one day.
I don’t know why I said it, other than that it had been said to me, and I had a pretty bad habit of sharing the secrets adults shared with me. I want to believe that somewhere in my 7 year-old brain, I must have thought I was trying to be helpful. Like, “Hey guys, FYI, there’s this religious test coming up that you do NOT wanna fail – the consequences are brutal. So, here’s the cheat sheet! Catch you on the flip side!”
Appropriately, many of the children in my elementary school class were upset by this announcement of mine. My teacher, and my parents were also very upset. And thank God they were, because it was my first big lesson in how religion could hurt other people, and that made an enormous impact on me.
(….. more later).